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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

A remedial rummage
Early uncertainty can only be handled with serenity

If you’ve ever strewn about the concourse of Schneider Arena long enough after the score-cementing buzzer, you may notice a tendency for the sound system to generate the hip, mildly celebratory opening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.” That is, naturally, assuming that it is a glorious day/night of victory for the host Friars.

Not so much recently. Rather, it’s been predominantly Gory Days for the Tim Army Corps as the month of November thickens. Coming into this weekend’s action, they brandished a harrowingly hollow 0-4 transcript in their 27-game Hockey East season concomitant with a raggedy goal-scoring deficit of 22-7.

Left and right, names of varying gravity and familiarity have been plugged, unplugged, and/or replugged into the game night lineup. Perhaps most tellingly, in the latter installment of last week’s forgettable home-and-home deal with UMass-Amherst, the could-be, would-be, should-be exemplary senior line of Kyle Laughlin, Nick Mazzolini, and Pierce Norton all took an upper bowl seat as penance for unsatisfactory play the night before.

The second-year captain Laughlin, for one, had sat out but two other games in his career. Those were the Friars’ first two contests of his freshman year. And here he was, involuntarily snapping a 111-game dressed streak implicitly for individual scoring famine. It was the story behind Miracle in its dreariest stretch.

Granted, the senior line –and Norton in particular- played a jutting role in at least letting Providence temporarily compress the open wound on Friday. Norton’s two power play strikes abolished Vermont’s 2-0 lead and formulated a 2-2 tie, in effect whittling PC’s first point in the 2008-09 conference standings.

And for those fans who aren’t easily perturbed with the passĂ© connotations of the “It’s a long season” homily, that’s still one valid source of potential consolation.

Then there’s the option of chinning up to the smattering of consistently promising elements on the Friar bench, namely the crafty first-line freshman and top gun Matt Bergland, whose pair of helpers for Norton augmented his early hot streak to nine points (eight of them helpers) in seven games.

Or, for those ready to rehash the play-it-safe, play-it-disinterested attitude once reserved for the Bruins, it should perhaps be noted that an array of PC athletic entities have had their explicitly wretched years and lived to tell the tale; or, better yet, to promptly bury the shoddy memories altogether.

Just to name one, men’s soccer, under head coach Chaka Daley’s tutelage since 2000, just extended its fourth consecutive appearance in the Big East tournament through an exhilarating first-round overhaul of Villanova. What happened immediately prior to their post-season regularity? The 2004 edition of Friar Futbol pulled a reverse 2007 Patriots and posted a 0-16 overall record. Daley’s tenure was five years running at that time. Now it’s in Year 9 and arguably at its most prosperous period.

And even established bigwigs in Friar Puck’s peer group have their infuriatingly substandard off years. The last time Boston University genuinely spilled its shot at an NCAA tournament berth –in 2003-04, when Jack Parker had already surpassed his 30th anniversary at the helm- they did so through a shaky 12-17-9 overall record. The best they could brandish in the way of individual scoring was then-junior defenseman Ryan Whitney, all 25 points of him. But the Terriers’ sandwiched that forgettable run with several saturated 20-plus win campaigns.

Jerry York’s capstone class at Conte Forum has collected eight Frozen Four passports in their last 11 opportunities and been to the regionals two other times in that time frame. In each of those ten prosperous years, the Eagles won no fewer than 24 games. Their only miss: when they went an iffy 18-18-2 in the 2001-02 season, a year of championship afterglow no less.

All emotional therapeutic tips aside, the general points are taken from the Providence fan base. This program has had no engagements at Boston’s prevalent ice mansion since the week before Ray Bourque went back there for a visit with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. It hasn’t come within legitimate tasting distance of the Lamoriello Trophy since Chuck Kobasew’s BC Eagles snatched it away from them that year.

And thoughts of national competition beyond the Vernal Equinox have never been long lasting since the Friars were scorched in the 2001 West Regional by Dany Heatley and the Wisconsin Badgers.

Understood. It’s tough to try to attend to those going-on eight-year-old hunger pangs when the team is doing nothing to stirringly fuel one’s appetite.

So what’s a Friar Fanatic to do? Ultimately, a full-rink lap like this returns to its point of origin. The Friars need only –and can only- fight to stabilize their system, steadily pour it into the competitive melting pot, and stand by for the final product in about four months.

Gritty Duncan etching her stripes
In a nod to the current edition of The Hockey News (newsstand date: November 17) wherein “NHL Team Reports examine players on each club who have stepped up this season by playing more minutes and a bigger role,” the Free Press offers the same report concerning PC:

Provided she can stabilize her health for the remainder of the season, PC women’s junior forward Jackie Duncan is on a promising pace to finally cement her name’s regularity in the nightly depth chart and relevance in the ongoing chatter amongst Friar Fanatics.

After charging up a so-so scoring log of 4-4-8 in 29 games as a frosh, and subsequently being restricted to a mere eight credited contests last year, Duncan entered the first full week of November with three points in six games, albeit accompanied with two temporary stints on the IR. When available, though, Duncan has recently been incorporated into the Friars’ power play brigade and is steadily improving her face-off proficiency.

Across the hall, sophomore Ian O’Connor took on a pre-season promotion to the PC men’s top line –linking up with Bergland and John Cavanagh for the team’s only stable entity thus far- after he led his rookie class with 11 points last year. All three of the relatively young guns have yet to look back. Already, he has twice snagged a goal-assist value pack –once at Holy Cross and once at UMass at the tail end of October- and to his credit glimmers at his best when enough teammates, especially his linemates, are cooperating.

Minnesota matching (or not)
Smells of the latest batch of ammo in the chronic, good-fun regionalist conflict recently billowed out of the chimney Minnesota’s regal ice cabin –aka the Xcel Energy Center. The X, already the fixed site of the WCHA Final Five and what will be two Frozen Fours come 2011, had just hosted the inaugural “Minnesota College Hockey Showcase,” featuring all four of the state’s male WCHA inhabitants.

Conference commissioner Bruce McLeod, upon soaking in the event he had reportedly been attempting to formulate for two decades: “It has a Beanpot feel to it.”

New Englanders are free to press slight exaggeration charges here. But take it from a scribe who has lived in both regions. Where they stand now in the full time capsule, the likes of Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State, St. Cloud State cannot measure up with Minnesota to kindle any buzzing rivalries of BC-BU proportions. Add the disadvantage of these programs being randomly speckled across the state as opposed to the Beanpot’s convenience of having all four participants nearly compacted within the same city limits.

Not to mention the beyond-reach continuity count. By the closure of this season, it will read: Beanpots 57, Minnesota Showcases 1.

And finally, Mr. McLeod, wouldn’t you rather concoct your own unique atmosphere rather than embark on a fruitless endeavor to duplicate the vibe of another world?

What was and "What if?"
A tandem of developments in the last week had to place PC Hall of Famer Chris Terreri, deep down, in a vat of starkly mixed feelings. When the polls closed over whom the Hockey East fandom liked as the league’s all-time top-performing crease custodian, Terreri was the exultant Obama of the pool. Accordingly, the lavish platter of yet-to-be-surpassed achievements in the 1986 alum’s stay on the Divine Campus resurfaced.

But ironically, Terreri’s triumph in the retroactive popularity contest fell the very day word broke out that his former New Jersey superior, Martin Brodeur, would take the first protracted medical leave of his distinguished professional career. Brodeur, who plunged in and earned priority consideration for the Devils’ cage ahead of his elder Terreri circa 1994, underwent elbow surgery Wednesday and will be shelved for three months at best, Terreri’s fellow Friar, former coach, and former employer Lou Lamoriello reported.

Hockey humility and selflessness aside, might Terreri be entitled to wish for a personal time machine?

Lowell’s Vallorani a hushed helper
There exists something of a gridlock in the bite-sized curious elements surrounding Dave Vallorani’s start to his career at UMass-Lowell, a program which graduated but one senior last season in Kelly Sullivan –a defenseman at that- and accordingly seemed to be shifting its weighty youth movement to fruitful maturity. Yet Vallorani, a freshman forward, has drawn a tie with junior Kory Falite atop the Riverhawks’ scoring chart with five points in as many games (all of them helpers). And even with that, plus the freshly bestowed Hockey East Rookie of the Month accolades, Vallorani has yet to be assigned anywhere higher than the third line. A likely attribute for that, though, would be his early lack of supplementing firsthand production. Vallorani has only charged up five shots on net in as many games played this season, a nightly median exceeding only that of sophomore defender Ryan Blair and a packet of less regularly dressed teammates.

Quick Feeds: In Team USA’s round robin tussle with Canada at the Four Nations Cup, former Harvard women’s standout Angela Ruggiero broke ex-Friar Cammi Granato’s all-time games played record of 205 in the national program…The PC men’s lone two disclosed pick-ups for next season, Chris Rooney of the EJHL’s Bridgewater Bandits and Alex Velischek of the AYHL’s New Jersey Colonials boasted respective scoring transcripts of 6-15-21 in 16 games and 5-5-10 in 11 games in their respective young (presumed) college prep campaigns…So, it looks like there won’t be any “Hockey Moms” on a national political platform anytime soon. Perhaps it’s for the better. After all, logic has it that the Palin Pit Bull breed of hockey moms tend to make their mailmen out of innocent referees and coaches. This game, and especially the youth game, can live without that kind of representation…Remarkably, out of eight Women’s Hockey East goaltenders to have charged up a save percentage within the .900 range, the helplessly tireless Genevieve Turgeon of Maine wasn’t one of them as of this weekend. She just missed out with a .890 shot-by-shot success rate…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: the Cornell men, who somehow retained membership in the national Top 20 leaderboard even without having played until this weekend, conduct a home-and-home series with Colgate, a consistent honorable mention in the polls of late.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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